A grand jury has indicted a former Phoenix police detective and his wife on first-degree murder charges in the February death of his 7-year-old daughter.
Germayne Cunningham was a 12-year veteran of the department and resigned amid the Goodyear police investigation in September. Lisa Cunningham, Germayne’s wife, was the girl’s stepmother.
Court documents outline disturbing allegations about the couple’s treatment of the girl, Sanaa Cunningham, over a period of several months in 2016 and 2017.
Prosecutors allege Sanaa was subjected to “forcible work” in the backyard during the summer, was tied with a RIPP restraint, a device that restricts movement, and at various times confined to the garage, laundry room or patio “with trash.”
The couple also faces 10 counts of child abuse in addition to the murder charge.
The Cunninghams claim the criminal charges stem from a dispute with the state Department of Child Safety, which they blame for the 7-year-old’s death. While Sanaa was in state custody, but still living with the family, the agency insisted the child be put on anti-psychotic medications or the parents risked being charged with medical neglect, the Cunninghams claim. They also say DCS threatened to remove their other four under-age children if the couple did not follow the medical treatment prescribed for Sanaa.
The Cunninghams have talked with The Arizona Republic over a number of weeks, outlining what they believe are abuses by DCS and the Goodyear Police Department. They claim their four children were removed from their home in April after they talked openly about suing DCS over Sanaa’s death. Those children remain in out-of-home placements.
The couple was aware of the ongoing grand-jury probe.
On Monday, the couple was unavailable for comment.
Lisa Cunningham’s adult daughter, Cierra Anderson, told The Republic her parents were visiting their youngest child, who is living in shelter care. The couple had not been arrested as of late Monday afternoon.
Anderson said relations between her parents and DCS were fine until Sanaa died in February.
“You’re great parents for keeping her in your home,” Anderson said, characterizing DCS’s stance. “Then when (Sanaa) died, all that changed.”
Anderson said DCS staffers who responded to several neglect complaints about Sanaa gave an all-clear for the child’s home life. Likewise, she said, the Goodyear Police Department responded to a check-welfare call made by Sanaa’s biological mother and found no problems.
The Cunninghams have said that claims they were abusing Sanaa, such as confining her to a room or restraining her, were misinterpreted. They had to take actions to isolate the child for her own protection and to prevent upheaval in a crowded home that housed eight people.
Goodyear Police Department spokeswoman Lisa Kutis said the Dec. 1 indictment was the result of an extensive 10-month investigation into what police called a “suspicious” death.
Kutis said it was a hospital staff member who made the initial report to police after employees noticed suspicious injuries on the child.
DCS said it would post information from its files about Sanaa Cunningham’s death Tuesday. The state is required to post information on child fatalities and near-fatalities if the case involved abuse, abandonment and neglect.
The agency declined to comment late Monday on the Cunningham’s claim that their four children were removed in retribution for a threat to sue.
A GoFundMe account was set up to support the Cunningham family shortly after Sanaa died. The description said Sanaa had suffered from various mental and physical health issues and that, last December, she was officially diagnosed with “unspecified schizophrenia, opposition defiant disorder and autism spectrum.”
“In the span of two years, this vibrant, energetic child’s quality of life continued to decline mentally and physically,” the crowdsourcing page read. “Doctors had prescribed a series of medications over the last year to help with her illnesses but it was not effective.”
The page went on to say that Sanaa had been prescribed an anti-psychotic medication weeks before she died, and attributed her death to the prescription’s “severe side effects.”
Sanaa had five other siblings, according to the GoFundMe page. The campaign is no longer active, but ultimately raised more than $8,000.